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Home Brewed with games supremo Tony Beckwith

The second of our quarterly Home Brewed events, In conversation with games supremo Tony Beckwith, took place this month.  

As former head of Climax Racing, former studio head at Disney's Black Rock and now running start up Gobo Games, Tony discussed his experience of building great games comapnies in Brighton.  Iain Gilfeather of Fat Pebble shares his account of the event..... 

My ex studio boss, Tony Beckwith, was the star of a Wired Sussex, Home Brewed session last Wednesday. Tony founded Climax Racing in 1999 and was in charge through to its sale to Disney in 2006 and its eventual closure last year. I was lucky enough to work as a programmer at that studio for 7 years. It was a job I enjoyed right up until the end so I thought Tony must have been doing something right and I could learn some lessons to help me out starting my own games studio, Fat Pebble.

The first part of the talk covered Tony's history in the games industry, from starting the first big development studio in Brighton to seeing the area grow into something of a games dev cluster. He held back on any juicy details about the Disney take over and break-up but that might have been my first lesson of the night: be professional and don't risk future business by holding any grudges.

The conversation (the session was an interview format with Phil Jones putting the questions) moved on to future plans for Tony's latest venture, Gobo Games. They're currently in 'bootstrap' mode working on some not too unfamiliar platforms and genres. The future is all about the coming together of entertainment industries, according to Tony, and Gobo want to be at the forefront. It's not that clear to me what this means in terms of product but the present day example he gave was Sesame St on Xbox - an interactive TV show that I still need to check out. What it means in terms of the entertainment development business is the coming together of several disciplines such as games development, TV production, website creation, print publishing and more. This means people who currently don’t know how each other work are going to have to learn to work together on the same products in future.

Personally I've noticed a lot of coming together of web game developers and console game developers as they both converge on the mobile platform. There's a lot from both sides in Brighton. I'm also seeing the increased involvement of TV in games, especially with BBC and Channel 4 commissioning a lot of titles, but I wouldn't have predicted such a shift towards combined TV-web-mobile-game productions as Gobo do. They're wiser and more connected though, so looking out for the chance to work closely with other entertainment industries was my next lesson for the night.

The final thing I learnt was that our goals at Fat Pebble are slightly different to Gobo's. The difference appeared when questioning turned to the floor and someone asked what Tony's single bit of advice to new start-ups would be and his answer was that they should do work for hire. To be fair he qualified that response by saying that's not going to be true for everyone but it's how Tony's studios have operated in the past and how Gobo is going to be another successful business. The alternative to work for hire is creating something new within in the studio, which needs to be paid for with some kind of funding and Gobo may go down this route in future but only when they've raised enough of a war chest through delivering paid projects to clients.

For me and my co-founders at Fat Pebble the biggest draw to working in games development is the chance to invent and create games ourselves. We’re not ignoring Tony’s advice about work for hire, as that’s how we’re currently funding our first original IP called Clay Jam. However, our goal is to be able to move towards being an original IP studio as quickly as possible.

Iain Gilfeather, Fat Pebble

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